First Minister Peter Robinson: 'I haven't gone away. There is still a huge job to do to keep us moving ahead'
First Minister vows to continue his work
I am not quitting. That is the blunt message Peter Robinson has sent to his critics as the new political season kicks off after the summer break.
Writing for the Belfast Telegraph on Monday, the First Minister dismissed speculation that he might step down any time soon.
He also denied any breakdown in relations with Sinn Fein after weeks of acrimony between the two parties over the summer marching season.
There was a flash of humour when he said that some in the media and rival politicians considered him "abrasive and obstinate" or "confrontational and inflexible" but "others are much less complimentary".
Mr Robinson wrote: "Let's just say applying a sensible condition is not a U-turn and I'm not quitting. I'll be working on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland when many of those who predict my political demise, including those windbag commentators, have left the stage."
The denial of a U-turn is a reference to his last public statement on Northern Ireland politics when he halted work on the Maze Peace and Reconciliation Centre.
Mr Robinson hinted the project may be revived if his condition of buy-in by groups representing victims of IRA terrorism is met.
The First Minister hit out at his critics in the Press and other political parties, accusing them of exaggerating the difficulties ahead.
"Both the media and politicians have characteristics – not, thankfully, found in them all – that do a disservice to the wider community," he wrote.
"For the Press it is the tendency to insist on absolutes. To a section of the media our Executive cannot face a challenge or have to deal with a difficult situation; for them the Executive must be in crisis, facing disaster or plunging into the abyss. However, the reality is there is space between harmony and extinction."
In the same vein, he played down the difficulties of the summer marching season.
"While some of the events of recent months have been deeply depressing we have, thankfully, so far avoided any loss of life and, despite much media hype, the political institutions remain secure. Northern Ireland needs to move forward, but we all must do so together," he wrote.
He also pledged to continue working for a shared society whatever the difficulties.
"We've passed the point where the asphalt ended and the untraveled bumpy road lies ahead. It's the point where faint hearts question the journey or seek to retreat to better known terrain," he added. But there were signs of continuing tension with Sinn Fein.
"Simply replacing the conflict that blighted our society with a 'cold peace', where people share the land but little else, is not the way forward," he argued.
In a seeming reference to recent republican commemorations, he continued: "There are those on the republican side who think continuing the conflict or revelling and grotesquely celebrating terrorist crimes from past conflicts will further their partisan goals.
"Anyone who thinks the way forward is to be found by pushing for a one-sided victory has learnt nothing from our painful past and has nothing to offer our community for a peaceful future."
Yet he maintained that the partnership between the two parties was worthwhile, stating: "This week in New York we will meet companies who would not have even considered Northern Ireland as a location a decade ago. Yet now we have succeeded in bringing proportionately more jobs and investment into Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK.
"People have to decide which team they are on. Are they among those who talk our process down – the spoilers who seek to profit from snags and complications – or are they among those who know that the road will be rough and the journey uncomfortable but the stable and peaceful society that can be gained worth every exertion and sacrifice?"
After Mr Robinson put the brakes on the Maze, other unionists have been pressing for changes on the reorganisation of local government. Mr Robinson pledged to press ahead with them.
"I can't tell you that political representatives will get everything right or that there won't be disagreements and problems along the way. But you can be sure that I will be doing all in my power to keep Northern Ireland moving forward," he vowed.
STORY SO FAR
Peter Robinson's last pronouncement on local politics was on August 15 when an 11-page letter to the DUP was released. It halted work on the Maze Peace and Reconciliation Centre as the £18m EU-funded project was about to go out to tender. Mr Robinson condemned what he called the "insensitive attitude displayed by Sinn Fein towards the innocent victims of IRA terrorism". He accused republicans of inflaming the situation by voting to remove the Union flag from Belfast City Hall, naming a Newry play park after an IRA hunger striker and holding an IRA commemoration in Castlederg. Mr Robinson said the project could not go ahead without a consensus that embraced the victims of IRA violence. Sinn Fein has complained that Mr Robinson, who had previously endorsed the project, had not liaised with it or kept Martin McGuinness, (right) the Deputy First Minister, in the loop.